Monday, 29 June 2015

Unlike Fundamentalists, Chimps Can Tell Right From Wrong.

Chimpanzees’ Bystander Reactions to Infanticide | Human Nature

Unlike fundamentalist Christians, who proudly boast that they have to use their holy book to understand what's right and what's wrong, and so bizarrely claim to be more moral than people who don't need a handbook, it seems even chimpanzees understand the difference, either instinctively or through culturally-inherited memes. Ironically, this indicates that this ability may even have been present in the last common ancestor shared by chimpanzees and humans.

This was the conclusion of a team from the University of Zurich, Switzerland, who allowed chimpanzees to watch various videos, some showing acts of chimpanzee violence including the hunting and killing of a colobus monkey, some peaceful activities and one showing chimpanzees killing an infant chimp.

One manifestation of the human capacity to tell right from wrong is the way we stare at the unusual - the Bystander Reaction - the reason so many people watch gruesome or distressing videos on YouTube, Facebook, or slow down to get a good look as they pass the car-crash on the other carriageway. It seems that chimpanzees do the same.

Social norms—generalized expectations about how others should behave in a given context—implicitly guide human social life. However, their existence becomes explicit when they are violated because norm violations provoke negative reactions, even from personally uninvolved bystanders. To explore the evolutionary origin of human social norms, we presented chimpanzees with videos depicting a putative norm violation: unfamiliar conspecifics engaging in infanticidal attacks on an infant chimpanzee. The chimpanzees looked far longer at infanticide scenes than at control videos showing nut cracking, hunting a colobus monkey, or displays and aggression among adult males. Furthermore, several alternative explanations for this looking pattern could be ruled out. However, infanticide scenes did not generally elicit higher arousal. We propose that chimpanzees as uninvolved bystanders may detect norm violations but may restrict emotional reactions to such situations to in-group contexts. We discuss the implications for the evolution of human morality.

Having ruled out factors such as any tendency to be attracted by the screams of the infant, because they were also present in other videos, the only thing left was that the chimpanzees recognised something that was outside the accepted social norms - the very basis of social ethics.

To be fair to fundamentalists, the belief that morality could only have come from a god, is a central religious apologetic 'proof' of the existence of one or other gods. It was one of C. S. Lewis's favourite 'proofs' he used in the much quoted Christian apologetic, Mere Christianity. It is still routinely trotted out for money to audiences of believers by people like William Lane Craig.

It'll be amusing now to see how these people, and especially creationists, cope with the problem of simultaneously claiming that their morals were given them by a magic friend so they are the only ones who can tell right from wrong, with this evidence that it is an evolved ability which might well have been present even in the common ancestor we share with chimpanzees, and the evidence that chimpanzees can tell right from wrong without either a magic invisible friend or a book it allegedly wrote for the purpose.

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1 comment :

  1. Interesting article. It was also enlightening to learn that "the bystander reaction" is actually related to empathy or morality rather than some innate morbid fascination.


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